Free Innovative Program at COD Combines GED With IT, Welding Certification
By Brian Kleemann
The new Integrated Career and Academic Preparation System (ICAPS) program at College of DuPage helps students earn their high school equivalency and COD certificate while preparing for industry certification – all at the same time and at no cost.
With the help of state and federal funding, College of DuPage is one of a select group of community colleges in Illinois participating in ICAPS, which integrates the GED program with career and technical training. Through ICAPS, which is part of the national Accelerated Opportunity initiative, students at COD can earn both their GED and a College certificate as well as receive the preparation to test for CompTIA A+, Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) Security or American Welding Society (AWS Sense 1) industry certification. In addition, the program can be completed in as little as 15 months.
Click here to watch a video about the Accelerating Opportunity program.
The ICAPS program is open to adults without a high school diploma and COD’s Advanced Adult ESL students. According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, more than 75,000 residents of Community College District 502 have less than a 12th grade education. Dan Deasy, Manager of Adult Education and Grant Compliance, said these certificates lead to in-demand jobs with sustainable wages.
“The ICAPS program gives students who are truly in need of both their high school credentials and workforce training the opportunity to gain both in a relatively short period of time,” he said. “It’s an ideal example of using creativity to meet educational and industry needs.”
The College utilized job data provided by the DuPage County Workforce Investment Board to identify which careers to address, and the CCNA Security certificate program was selected for the pilot. Then GED course content and a college success course were structured around the program-specific curriculum.
Felix Davis, Associate Professor and Coordinator of the Computer and Internetworking Technologies program, said IT careers are in such high demand that the Bureau of Labor Statistics expects positions in this field to go unmet during the next decade.
“That’s why we strategically selected this program, because there are so many opportunities both now and in the future,” he said. “We also want to attract more women. Because this has traditionally been a male-dominated field, we want women to see that they can succeed in IT careers.”
Alessandra Suarez of Downers Grove was looking to enter the workforce. A native of Brazil, she had finished most of the GED equivalent in her native country before coming to the U.S. After learning English, she spent the next 20 years as a wife and mother.
“I always said I would get a job once my two kids reached a certain age,” she said. “But when that time came, all of the job applications asked for your degree or a GED. So I came to COD about getting my GED and found out about this program.”
Although Suarez never considered a career in IT, she liked the idea of a program that provided hands-on training. Now in her final semester, she recently became the first in her class to pass the Cisco Certified Entry Networking Technician (CCENT) certification, the initial component of Cisco’s certification system. Next will be the CCNA exam, which she will take after completing the program. Eventually, she would like to pursue other certifications and possibly a degree.
“My preparation for the CCENT exam was excellent. Everything was covered in class, and I’m just so relieved to have passed,” she said. “This program is very challenging, but we received so much support from everyone. And I’m very lucky to also have the support of my husband, because this program requires dedication.”
Lecturer Mary Clare Sullivan said most students in the program are juggling jobs, families and schoolwork. Many of them also come from another country, so the curriculum was designed to meet all of their needs.
“We incorporated a resource hour after each day of classroom instruction so students have access to the equipment necessary to complete their labs and assignments. They can also take advantage of their peer tutor who volunteers his time to assist students with their labs,” she said. “The College Success Course addressed such topics as time management and managing materials. We even provided binders and flash drives so that all materials could be found quickly.
“I love the fact that throughout the course of the program, we gained each other’s trust and respect and have become a team.”
Melvyn Jones of Lombard, who previously worked in web design, was attracted to the ICAPS program because he wanted a career path with high demand that was still within the technical field. Also in his final semester, he already landed a programming position at Redbox.
“On the application, I said I was pursuing CCNA certification, and during the two phone interviews, some of the questions asked were about topics we had covered in class,” he said. “After I got the job, Redbox even worked my hours around my school schedule.”
Although it took time to re-acclimate himself to school, Jones said the effort was worth it.
“The staff support at COD is awesome, especially Professor Felix, (Student Services Coordinator) Ruta Jonusaitis and Miss Mary Clare, who have really pushed and encouraged us. In the future, I want to pursue more Cisco certifications and my goal is to continue for a bachelor’s.”
Deasy said the program’s funding also reflects a creative approach by combining Adult Education and Perkins grant monies with COD funds for the initial launch.
“This is what College of DuPage can do best – creating new ways of educating and training our community so they can find immediate employment in fields that have great financial potential,” he said.
Pictured: Alessandra Suarez (left) and Melvyn Jones (Photo by COD News Bureau)
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